The Captive (Chapter Twelve)
Adam and Diana… they couldn't. Only, of course, they could. Diana was laughing up at Adam now, tossing her straight, shining hair back. And although Cassie couldn't see Adam's eyes behind the mask, his lips were smiling.
Cassie turned, almost blundering into Nick, who was bringing her some punch, and rushed off into the dimness.
She found a dark corner under a Chinese lantern that had gone out. Shielded by a curtain of black and orange streamers, she stood there, trying to get hold of herself, trying not to see the pictures her mind was showing her.
The next thing she knew, she could smell wood smoke and ocean breeze, along with a faint, indefinable scent of animal and oak leaves. Adam.
"Cassie," he said. Just that, as if Herne were calling her in her dreams, inviting her to throw off the covers in the middle of the night and come dancing in the autumn leaves.
And then, in a more ordinary voice, he said quietly, "Cassie, are you okay? Diana says-"
"What?" Cassie demanded, in a way that would have been fierce if her voice hadn't been trembling.
"She's just worried that you're not all right."
"I'm all right!" Cassie was struggling not to let the tears escape. "And anyway-I'm tired of people talking about me behind my back. Faye says, Diana says-I'm tired of it."
He took both her cold hands in his. "I think," he said in a subdued voice, "that you're just tired, period."
I am, Cassie thought. I'm tired of having secrets. And I'm tired of fighting. If I'm already evil, what's the point of fighting?
Just at the moment, to think was to act.
Before she knew what she was doing, her hands had turned inside Adam's, so that her fingers were clasping his. Not by 'word or look or deed, what a laugh, she thought. We've already broken it a thousand times. Why not really break it? That way at least she would have something concrete to feel bad about. That way Diana wouldn't have him first.
That was the crux of it. Diana might have everything else, but she wouldn't have Adam first.
I could do it, Cassie thought. Suddenly, her mind was working coolly and rationally, far removed from all the twisted pain in her chest. Adam was vulnerable to her because he was honorable, because he would never dream of her scheming to get him.
If she started to cry right now … If she got him close enough to hold her, then relaxed against him, making herself soft in his arms… If she laid her head on his shoulder so that he could smell her hair … If she sighed and let her head fall back… would he be able to resist kissing her?
Cassie didn't think so.
There were places darker than this corner. Safe places in the school. The home-ec room with the lock anyone could pick, the storage compartment where the gymnastics mats were kept. If Adam kissed her and she kissed him back, could anything stop them from going there?
Cassie didn't think so.
And Diana, sweet stupid innocent Diana, would never know the difference. If Adam said he'd had to take Cassie for a walk to calm her down, Diana would believe him.
No, there was nothing to stop Cassie and Adam… except the oath. How did it go again? Fire burn me, air smother me, earth swallow me, water cover my grave. Cassie wasn't afraid of that. Fire was burning her body already, and air was smothering her-she couldn't breathe. There was nothing to stop her. She leaned in closer to Adam, head drooping like a flower on a slender stem, feeling the first easy tears come. She heard the catch in her breath, and felt his fingers tighten on hers in concern, and awareness.
"Cassie-God…" he whispered.
A fierce rush of triumph swept through Cassie. He couldn't help himself. It was going to happen. Oak and holly, leaf and briar/ Touch him with the secret fire…
What was she doing?
Using magic on Adam? Snaring him with words that had come from some deep well of knowledge within herself? It was wrong, dishonorable, and not just because members of the Club didn't work spells on each other unasked.
It was wrong because of Diana.
Diana, who'd been Cassie's friend when no one else would speak to her. Who'd championed her against Faye and the whole school. Even if Cassie couldn't deal with being close to Diana right now, the memory of Diana was like a star shining in her mind. If she betrayed that, she betrayed everything that meant anything.
Evil or not, Cassie couldn't do it.
She extracted her hands from Adam's strong fingers.
"I'm all right," she said, her voice soft and weak, all its bones crushed.
He was trying to get hold of her hands again. That was the problem with magic, you couldn't always stop what you'd started. "Adam, really," she said. Then, desperately, she added, "Diana's waiting."
Saying Diana's name helped. He stood for a moment, then escorted her back, Herne bringing a wayward nymph home to the Circle. Cassie went over to Laurel for safety; Nick was nowhere in sight. Well, she didn't blame him.
Diana was talking to Sally Waltman, who was there and looking hard as nails, despite the loss of Jeffrey. That left Adam and Cassie with Laurel and Melanie and their dates, and Sean and Deborah. A merry group of witches. Next to them was a group of outsiders.
A slow dance was starting. The group of outsiders broke up, moving onto the dance floor. All except one.
That one remained standing there, isolated, on the fringe of the Club. She was a junior Cassie vaguely recognized from French class, a shy girl, not beautiful, but not ugly, either. Right now she was trying to pretend that she didn't mind being abandoned, that she didn't care.
Cassie's heart went out to her. Poor girl. Once, Cassie had been just like her.
"Want to dance?" It was Adam's voice, warm and friendly- but he wasn't talking to Cassie, he was talking to the outsider girl. Her face lit up, and she went happily with him out onto the floor, the scales of her mermaid costume flashing and twinkling. Cassie watched them go with a pang.
But not of jealousy. Of love-and respect.
"The parfit gentil knight," Melanie said.
"What?" said Cassie.
"It's from Chaucer. We learned it in British lit class. That's what Adam is, the perfect gentle knight," Melanie explained.
Cassie thought about this for a while. Then she turned to Sean. "Hey, skinny, want to shake your bones?" she said.
Sean's face lit up.
Well, Cassie thought as she and Sean began swaying to the music, one thing was for sure: This dance wasn't anything like the last one. With Adam, the gym had seemed a place of beauty and enchantment. Now all she saw were paper cutouts and naked pipes overhead. At least Sean-the-Day-Glo-skeleton didn't try to pull her in too close.
Afterward, other guys approached her, but Cassie made a beeline for Nick, who'd rematerialized, and hid behind him. At least this part of her plan worked-the other guys retreated. It was strange to be something everybody wanted and couldn't have. Nick didn't ask her why she'd rushed off, and she didn't ask him where he'd disappeared to.
They danced a few times. Nick didn't try to kiss her.
And then it was time to leave. After saying good-bye to their bewildered, slightly indignant dates, the members of the Club gathered at the exit, and not even the strawberry-blond goddess Aphrodite was late. Even the two identical Zaxes, their slanted blue-green eyes sparkling, were waiting outside the door. Then they all started off into the darkness. The moon had set, but the stars seemed to be on fire.
It was cold on the point of the headland. They sat on bits of the foundation of the razed house, while Deborah and Faye built a bonfire in the center. Other people were bringing provisions out of the cars. Cassie had expected everyone to be solemn, but the Circle was in a party mood, excited by the night, laughing and joking, defying the danger of what they were going to do in an hour or so. Cassie found herself enjoying the celebration, not thinking about the future.
There was lots of food. Dried pumpkin seeds ("Without salt," Laurel said), pumpkin bread and gingerbread baked by Diana, boxes of chocolate- and orange-frosted doughnuts from Adam, a bowl of mixed Halloween candy provided by Suzan, soft drinks and spiced cider, and a large paper bag of Chris's that rattled.
"Nuts! Yeah! For virility!" Doug yelled to the other guys, with an uncouth gesture.
"Hazelnuts symbolize wisdom," Melanie said patiently, but the Henderson brothers just sneered.
And there were apples: winesaps, greenings, macintoshes. "Apples for love and death," Diana said. "Especially at Halloween. Did you know they were sacred to the goddess Hera?"
"Did you know the seeds contain cyanide?" Faye added, smiling oddly. She'd been smiling oddly at Cassie ever since Cassie had emerged from behind the streamer curtain with Adam at the dance. Now, leaning over to take a piece of gingerbread, she murmured in Cassie's ear, "What happened back there when he followed you? Did you blow your chance?"
"It isn't nice to fool around with guys who're taken," Cassie whispered tiredly, as if explaining to a five-year-old.
Faye chuckled. "Nice? Is that what you want for your epitaph? 'Here lies Cassie. She was… nice'?"
Cassie turned her head away.
"I know an apple spell," Laurel was saying to the group. "You peel an apple in one long spiral, then throw the peel over your shoulder, and if it doesn't break, it forms the initial of your true love."
They tried this, without much success. The peelings kept breaking, Suzan cut herself on Deborah's knife, and when Diana did manage to throw a peeling over her shoulder, it only formed a spiral.
"Well, that's sacred to the goddess at least," Laurel said, frowning. "Or to the Horned One," she added mischievously, looking at Adam.
Cassie had been deliberately breaking her apple peels; the whole fortune-telling thing made her uneasy. And not just because Melanie mentioned cheerfully, "They used to execute witches for this kind of divination on Halloween."
"I've got another one," Laurel said. "You throw a nut in the fire, say a pair of names, and see what happens. Like Suzan and David Downey," she added impishly. "If the nut pops, they're meant for each other. If it doesn't, they're doomed."
"If he loves me, pop and fly; if he hates me, burn and die!" Suzan quoted dramatically as Laurel tossed a hazelnut in. The round little nut just sizzled.
"Laurel and Doug," Chris snickered, throwing in another.
"Chris and Sally Waltman!" Doug countered.
"Cassie and Nick!"
Deborah tossed that one in, grinning, but Faye was noticeably unsmiling.
"Adam…" she said, holding a nut up high between long red nails and waiting until she had everyone's attention. Cassie stared at her, poised on the edge of her brick. ". . . and Diana," Faye said finally, and flicked the hazelnut into the flames.
Cassie, mesmerized, watched the nut where it lay on glowing embers. She didn't want to look at it; she had to.
"There are lots of other Halloween traditions," Laurel was going on. "It's time to remember old people, people who're coming to the winter of their lives-or that's what my Granny Quincey says."
Cassie was still staring at that one hazelnut. It seemed to be jiggling-but was it going to pop?
"It's getting late," Adam said. "Don't you think we should get started?"
Diana brushed pumpkin-bread crumbs off her hands and stood. "Yes."
Cassie only took her eyes off the fire for an instant, but in that instant, there was a sound like gunfire. Two or three nuts had exploded at once, and when Cassie looked back she couldn't see the one Faye had thrown. It had popped-or she'd lost track of it. She couldn't tell which.
A heartbeat later it flashed through her mind to wonder about Deborah's nut-for Cassie and Nick. But she couldn't tell what had become of that one, either.
"All right, now," Diana said. "This is going to be a different kind of Circle. It's going to be more powerful than anything we've ever used before, because we need more protection than we've ever needed before. And it's going to take everybody's help." She followed this with an earnest glance at Faye, who replied with a look of utmost innocence.
Cassie watched Diana draw a circle inside the ruined foundation with her black-handled knife. The bonfire was at the center. Everyone was serious now, their eyes following the path of the knife as it cut through the soil, making an almost perfect ring with a single gap at the northeast corner.
"Everyone get inside, and then I'll close it," Diana said. They all filed inside and sat along the inner perimeter of the ring. Only Raj was left on the outside, watching anxiously and whining a little in his throat.
"After this," Diana said, closing the gap with a sweep of the knife, "no one leaves the protection of the circle. What we're summoning up inside will be dangerous, but what'll be hanging around outside will be even worse."
"How dangerous?" Sean said nervously. "What's inside, I mean."
"We'll be safe as long as we don't go near the fire or touch it," Diana said. "No matter how strong a spirit it is, it won't be able to part from the fire we use to summon it. All right," she added briskly, "now I'm going to call on the Watchtower of the East. Powers of Air, protect us!"
Standing facing the dark eastern sky and ocean, Diana held a burning stick of incense and blew it eastward across the circle. "Think of air!" she told the coven members, and at once Cassie not only thought of it, but felt it, heard it. It started as a gentle breeze blowing from the east, but then it began to gust. It became a blast, a roaring wind beating in their faces, blowing Diana's long hair backward like a banner. And then it diverted, flowing around the circumference of the circle, enclosing them.
Diana took a burning stick out of the fire and moved to stand in front of Cassie, who was seated at the southernmost edge of the circle. Waving the stick over Cassie's head, she said, "Now I'm calling on the Watchtower of the South. Powers of Fire, protect us!"
She didn't need to say, think of fire. Cassie could already feel the heat radiating on her back, could picture the pillar of flame bursting up behind her. It raced around like sparks across gunpowder, to form a circle of wildfire just outside the circle of wind.
It's not real, Cassie reminded herself. They're just symbols we're visualizing. But they were awfully concrete-looking symbols.
Diana moved again. Dipping her fingers in a paper cup, she sprinkled water across the western perimeter, between Sean and Deborah. "I'm calling on the Watchtower of the West. Powers of Water, protect us!"
It surged up, a phantom glass-green wave, cresting higher and higher. The swell flowed around to encompass the circle with a wall of water.
Lastly, Diana moved north, facing Adam and scattering salt across the northern line. "Watchtower of the North," she said, in a voice that wavered slightly and showed how much this was taking out of her. "Powers of Earth, protect us!"
The ground rumbled beneath them.
It caught Cassie off guard, and the rest of the group was even more startled than she was. They weren't used to earthquakes here in New England, but Cassie was a native Californian. She saw that Sean was about to jump up.
"Deborah, get Sean!" she cried.
In an instant, the biker girl had grabbed Sean and was forcibly holding him from running. The tremors became more and more violent- and then with a sound like a thunderclap, the ground split. A chasm opened all around the circle, spewing up a strong, sulfurous smell.
It isn't real. It isn't real, Cassie reminded herself. But surrounding her she saw the phantoms of the four elements Diana had invoked, layered one after another. A circle of raging wind, then a ring of fire, then a wall of seawater, and finally a chasm in the earth. Nothing from the outside could pass those boundaries-and Cassie wouldn't like to bet on anything from the inside getting out safely, either.
Shakily, Diana walked over to sit down in her place between Nick and Faye. "Okay," she said, almost in a whisper. "Now we all concentrate on the fire. Look into it and let the night do the rest. Let's see if anything comes to talk to us."
Cassie's eyes shifted to Melanie, beside her. "But if we're protected from everything outside, who's going to be able to come talk to us?" she murmured.
"Something from here," Melanie whispered back, looking down at the barren earth inside the circle. Inside the foundations of the house.
Cassie gazed into the flames, trying to clear her mind, to be open to whatever might be trying to cross the veil between the invisible world and this one. Tonight was the night, and now was the time.
The fire began smoking.
Just a little at first, as if the wood were damp.
But then the smoke got darker-still transparent, but blacker. It streamed upward and hung in a cloudy mass above the bonfire.
Then it began to change.
It was twisting, swelling, like thunderheads rolling together. As Cassie stared, her breath clogging in her throat, it began to mold itself, to form a shape.
It seemed to develop from the top down, and it was wearing old-fashioned clothes, like something out of a history book. A hat with a high crown and a stiff brim. A cloak or cape which hung down from broad shoulders, and a wide, severe linen collar. Breeches tied below the knees. Cassie thought she could make out square-toed shoes, but at times the lower legs just dwindled into the smoke of the fire. One thing she noticed, the smoke never actually detached from the fire, it always remained connected by a thin trail.
The figure floated there motionless except for eddies within itself.
Then it drifted toward Cassie.
She was the one who seemed to be facing it straight on. A sudden thought came into her mind. When Adam had first taken the crystal skull out of his backpack on the beach, it had seemed to be looking directly at her. And again-at the skull ceremony, she remembered. When Diana had pulled the cloth off the skull then, those hollow eyesockets had seemed to be staring right into Cassie's eyes.
Now this thing was staring at her in the same way.
"We should ask it a question," Melanie said, but even her usually calm voice was unsteady. There was a feeling of menace about the cloudy shape, of evil. Like the dark energy inside the skull, only stronger. More immediate.
Who are you? thought Cassie, but her tongue was frozen, and anyway, she didn't need to ask. There was no doubt at all in her mind who the shape in front of her was.
Then came Diana's voice, clear and carefully calm. "We've invited you here because we've found something of yours," she said. "We need to know how to control it. Will you talk to us?"
There was no answer. Cassie thought the thing was moving closer to her-but maybe it was just an illusion.
"There are terrible things going on," Adam said. "They have to be stopped."
No illusion. It was coming closer.
"Are you controlling the dark energy?" Melanie asked abruptly, and Laurel's voice blended with hers: "You're dead! You've got no right to be interfering with the living."
"What's your problem, anyway?" Deborah demanded.
Too fast, Cassie thought. Too many people asking questions. The shape was drifting steadily closer. Cassie felt paralyzed, as if she were in danger that no one else saw.
"Who killed Kori?" Doug Henderson was snarling.
"Why did the dark energy lead us to the cemetery?" Deborah jumped in.
"And what happened to Jeffrey?" Suzan added.
The trail of smoke connecting the shape to the fire was stretched out thin, and the shape was right in front of Cassie. She was afraid to look into that cloudy, indistinct face, but she had to. In its contours she thought she could recognize the face she'd glimpsed inside the crystal skull.
Get up, Cassie.
The words weren't real words, they were in her mind. And they had some power over her. Cassie felt herself shift position, begin to rise.
Come with me, Cassie.
The others were still asking questions, and dimly Cassie could hear barking far away. But much louder was the voice in her mind.
She got to her feet. The swirling darkness seemed to be less transparent now. More solid. It was reaching out a formless hand.
Cassie reached out with her own hand to take it.